At the tail end of Historic Preservation Month is what would have been Richard Stanley Nickel’s 90th birthday, on May 31. The storied historic preservationist’s legacy still looms large amongst architecture and historic preservation intelligentsia like no other practitioner living or dead. In Chicago, Richard Nickel’s hand seems to guide how the built environment is documented, gives a level of honesty to those that practice architectural salvage, and provides a saint-like martyr for traditional preservationists. No one interfacing with the Chicago School of Architecture–specifically the work of Louis Sullivan–is able to detach themselves from what Richard Nickel wrote or what he saw. Nickel has been studied and dissected in many ways before, but a new organization seeks to take a fresh, objective look at the raw body of his work. Bianca Bova is associate director of the Chicago Architecture Preservation Archive (CAPA), who, along with storied City of Chicago Cultural Historian Tim Samuelson, is at the helm of the organization devoted to "the documentation and stewardship of materials" of early urban preservationists, specifically Nickel. “Richard Nickel is a moving target,” says Bova, “and CAPA is an open resource to help maintain his ongoing relevance.” CAPA is in the process of creating a full inventory of the collection, which is complementary to the contents of the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries architectural archive. While the Richard Nickel Archive includes negatives, photographs, contact sheets, architectural drawings and other effects, including Nickel’s personal library, CAPA’s collection comes from Richard Nickel’s friends, like Tim Samuelson, and architect John Vinci. It contains salvage, personal items, the working files of The Complete Architecture of Adler and Sullivan, and perhaps most importantly Nickel’s datebook, which Bova has poured over and determined that many of the individuals within it are “still around and have a lot to say.” Richard Nickel has long been presented as a tireless martyr, a preservationist willing to lay down his life. On April 13, 1972, Nickel left home early to salvage architectural fragments inside the Chicago Stock Exchange, an 1894 structure by Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan slated for demolition after a lengthy advocacy campaign. Demolition halted after Nickel didn’t return home that evening. Friends and family continued to search for him for a week, only finding his briefcase and hardhat amongst the rubble. Once demolition resumed, a worker spotted what looked like a human shoulder, two floors beneath the Trading Room, in the Stock Exchange’s sub-basement. Richard Nickel had been crushed to death, but his body had remained intact. Debris and rubble, along with cold water seeping into the building had kept decomposition at bay. An autopsy later revealed that Richard Nickel had suffered from pulmonary emphysema and chronic bronchitis, a result of breathing in 20 years of dust and airborne debris from salvage sites. Through the nature of his death, Richard Nickel’s legacy began to take on a cult-like status, a perspective that Bova feels Nickel would take issue with. “He was a good person, but not a saint.” The collections at CAPA, housed inside Mana Contemporary Chicago, strive to allow Nickel to speak for himself through primary source material. While CAPA may provide a 21st century answer to preservation, Bova is reserved when asked about how Richard Nickel might feel about the contemporary historic preservation movement, “I would never presume to speak for Richard.”
Posts tagged with "Louis Sullivan":
On April 20, the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) announced the 2018 awardees of the SAH Publication Awards and the SAH Award for Film and Video. The seven awardees are divided into six categories, ranging from exhibition catalogues to documentary film. The Society of Architectural Historians is an international organization advocating the study and preservation of architecture and urbanism. The organization was founded in 1940 at Harvard University, but is now located in Chicago’s Charnley-Persky House, a residence designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan. Alice Davis Hitchcock Book Award: This award annually recognizes distinguished scholarly publications in the field of architectural history by a North American scholar. There are two winners: Kathryn E. O’Rourke Modern Architecture in Mexico City: History Representation, and the Shaping of a Capital O’ Rourke’s Modern Architecture in Mexico City presents a narrative of Mexico City’s distinctive modernist movement, one blending Aztec motifs and International Style architecture within the same context. O’Rourke looks toward educational centers, government ministries, and private residences to construct her interpretation of this distinct historical moment. Mrinalini Rajagopalan Building Histories: The Archival and Affective Lives of Five Monuments in Modern Delhi Rajagopolan’s Building Histories examines the historical memories constructed around “five medieval monuments in Delhi–the Red Fort, Rasul Numa Dargah, Jama Masjid, Purana Qila, and the Qutb complex.” Through archival research, the author seeks to demonstrate how colonial and post-colonial authorities have manipulated architectural history and artifacts to suit their political needs. Philip Johnson Exhibition Catalogue Award: This award acknowledges an exhibition catalogue that explores architectural history in a unique and engaging way. Nina Stritzler-Levine and Timo Riekko, Editors Artek and the Aaltos: Creating a Modern World Atrek and the Aaltos: Creating a Modern World began as a Bard Graduate Center exhibition focusing on Finnish architects Alvar Aalto and Aino Marsio-Alto and their design company, Artek. A catalogue of this exhibition, the book features images of over three hundred objects designed by the company and critical interpretations of their work. Spiro Kostof Award: This award recognizes interdisciplinary studies of urban history that advance our understanding of urban development. John North Hopkins The Genesis of Roman Architecture Hopkins’ The Genesis of Roman Architecture tracks the development of Roman architecture as the dominant stylistic influence of the Mediterranean world. Additionally, the book examines cultural exchanges between the growing Roman Republic and neighboring civilizations and their impact on Roman artistry. Honorable Mention Michele Lamprakos Building a World Heritage City: Sanaa, Yemen Building a World Heritage City examines Yemen’s capital as a historic city that has continued its traditional building methods and ways of life to the present day. With the backdrop of the ongoing Yemeni Civil War, the book provides an eloquent account of the threatened ancient settlement. Elisabeth Blair MacDougall Book Award: The MacDougall Book Award annually awards a distinguished work focusing on the history of landscape architecture. John Beardsley, Editor Cultural Landscape Heritage in Sub-Saharan Africa Beardsley’s Cultural Landscape Heritage in Sub-Saharan Africa is a collection of essays focusing on pre-colonial African landscaping. The sites discussed in the book range from pathways to ceremonial spaces. Through this discussion, the author highlights how these sites were perceived by colonial authorities and by contemporary nation-building policies. Founders’ JSAH Article Award: The Founders’ Award recognizes an article published in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. Sabine von Fischer “A Visual Imprint of Moving Air: Methods, Models, and Media in Architectural Sound Photography, ca. 1930” Von Fischer’s “A Visual Imprint of Moving Air” examines the role of photography and images in the early 20th century study of architectural acoustics. In particular, von Fischer focuses on the experiments of Franz Max Osswald, a Swiss academic who used the schlieren technique for photographic sound. SAH Award for Film and Video: This award recognizes a film or video that deepens the understanding of the built environment and delivers it to a new audience. Peter Rosen, Director Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future Rosen’s documentary on Eero Saarinen chronicles the life and work of the Finnish-American architect, and is part of PBS' American Masters television series. The film includes interviews with contemporary architects Cesar Pelli, Robert A.M Stern and Rafael Vinoly.
Archeologists involved with the federal review of the proposed Obama Presidential Center have unearthed artifacts from the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. The proposed presidential library is located atop the former fair grounds in Chicago's Jackson Park. The Chicago Tribune reports that the artifacts range from pieces of fair buildings such as Louis Sullivan’s Transportation Building (pictured above), to waste associated with services from the fair, including animal bones. Prestigious firms D. H. Burnham & Company and Olmsted, Vaux & Co led the design of the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition. Designed and built according to City Beautiful principles, much of the 1893 campus was comprised of temporary structures built of form worked plaster painted white to resemble limestone. While the discovery of archeological artifacts can impact the timetable of a development, especially one of this scope, the Chicago Tribune notes that officials from the Illinois Department of Transportation who oversaw the archeological dig do not believe that the cluster of artifacts are significant enough to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The archeological findings will be presented March 29 during a public hearing at the University of Chicago, which will also discuss neighboring historic properties that the Obama Presidential Library will impact. Unless state preservation officials disagree with the Illinois DOT’s findings, the Obama Foundation intends to gain planning approval in May and open the facility to the public in 2021.
Students at the University of Kansas School of Architecture, Design & Planning are recreating the ornate terra-cotta of the Louis Sullivan-designed Wainwright building in St. Louis. But instead of the large sheets of parchment and hand-crafted originals, the students are using 3-D modeling software, photographs, and 3-d printing and routing. As part of Assistant Professor Keith Van de Riet’s “Craft in the Digital Age” class, 16 students recreated full-scale replicas of details from the historic early skyscraper. Appropriately based on the teaching methods of the 18th century École des Beaux-Arts, students are learning through copying masters. An extra step is added, though, in that the class is attempting to reproduce work once done completely by hand with digital methods. “The technology is pretty cutting edge in its own way. We always make the assumption that we have moved beyond it,” explained Van de Riet on the importance of bringing together old and new technology. “A challenge from day one was to show the students how our new technologies can be brought together with high craft.” Yet, even with some of the latest technology at their disposal, portions of the process of producing architectural terra-cotta has remained the same over the centuries. While the positive models of the details are produced using a 3-D printer or foam cut on a CNC router, the new technology stops there. Those original positives were then used to produce plaster or silicone molds, which were then filled by hand with clay. Once dry, the clay was then fired at KU’s Department of Visual Arts, a challenge in itself. The fall class produced four large terra-cotta details. They also produced steel frameworks to hang the heavy pieces for display, which can now be seen in the common area of the architecture school. The hope is that the techniques learned in the class could further preservation efforts. Currently, Van de Riet is applying for grants to further the project. Eventually, the plan is to make digital 3-D models available to be downloaded and printed for educational or restoration purposes. “In one portion of the research proposal we are looking at the Guarantee Building, which is a more challenging building in terms of the details,” said Van de Riet about the future of the project. “We would like to apply both the methods for extracting the geometry, as well as use another design-build studio to make prototypes more pieces.”
There’s been no shortage of worthy architectural documentaries in recent years, but you’ll want to make room on your DVD rack for the latest look at a major American figure: Louis Sullivan: The Struggle for American Architecture. Recently given its New York premiere courtesy of the good people at Docomomo New York/Tri-State, this touching and tragic film offers a portrait of the man who perhaps more than anyone aspired to create an American style of architecture, yet was left behind by a nation on the cusp of a century that Sullivan himself did much to define. First-time director Mark Richard Smith frames Sullivan’s story as a battle between the architect's original vision—one explicitly crafted as an expression of American democracy—and historicist styles imported from Europe that would sweep the nation in the late 19th century. The latter are embodied by Sullivan’s Chicago archrival Daniel Burnham, whose triumph at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893—where the sprawling White City was an ode to Beaux-Arts classicism—drove the nail in the coffin of modern experimentation, and, as Sullivan bitterly remarked, was the place where “architecture died.” Even for devotees of Sullivan’s astonishing output, the details of his life are not well known, and the film puts his career in the context of a Chicago surging from the ashes of the Great Fire of 1871, the “Katrina of its day” that created huge opportunities for architects. Into this boom stepped Dankmar Adler, a renowned acoustician but lackluster designer who saw just the creative spark his firm needed in a young Louis Sullivan. Adler & Sullivan would design landmarks such as Chicago’s Auditorium of 1889, taking cues from H.H. Richardson’s brawny Romanesque but leavening it with Sullivan’s unusual decorative programs. When Frank Lloyd Wright joined the team as chief draftsman, one of the great ensembles in architecture was born. (The firm’s work is chronicled in the recent Complete Architecture of Adler & Sullivan, another must-have volume for Chicago architecture aficionados.) The film, itself just released on DVD, taps experts like City University’s Robert Twombly and Chicago historian Tim Samuelson to add depth to Sullivan’s story, including the major innovations marked by his early skyscrapers. Of seven tall buildings he managed to complete, five are left, and the influence those few structures would have on American architecture, with their emphasis on verticality and functional design, is the architect’s last word over his historicist contemporaries. It wasn’t the later Mies or Corb, of course, but Sullivan who coined the phrase that would define the century to come: “form ever follows function.” Nearly all of Sullivan’s major surviving buildings are gorgeously photographed here, with close-up pans across the upper reaches of Buffalo’s Guaranty Building and inside the Auditorium, for example, revealing ornamental details hardly visible from below. Among the discoveries of his late career is a string of one-off bank buildings in small midwestern towns that are delicate masterpieces made by a man who knew history had left him for dead. Chronicling the last years of Sullivan’s life, during which the destitute designer was forced to sell his personal effects at auction, the film pauses over a devastating note inscribed on a drawing made as Sullivan sat in borrowed quarters to compose a primer on ornament. As if reaching back to the inspirational wellspring of his youth, Sullivan writes: “Remember the seed-germ.” For the architecture-obsessed, this is spine-tingling stuff. Louis Sullivan may not pack the psychodrama of Nathaniel Kahn’s My Architect, but its close focus on the buildings themselves makes it equally affecting. By the end of this journey through the rafters and across the cornices of a great architect’s career, you feel the film’s sweeping subtitle—the struggle for American architecture—just about hits the mark.
Everyone may be a critic, but none moreso than Roger Ebert. While film has long been the Chicagoan's preferred medium, he has increasingly cast his eyes and pen elsewhere on his Sun-Times blog (begun after a bout of thyroid cancer). Yesterday, he fixed his attention—and mostly scorn—on modern architecture. It's a highly opinionated piece, one in which Ebert openly admits his increasingly "reactionary" preferences:
It was not always so. My first girlfriend when I moved to Chicago was Tal Gilat, an architect from Israel. She was an admirer of Mies. Together we explored his campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology. She showed me his four adjacent apartment buildings on Lake Shore Drive and said they looked as new today as when they were built. It is now 40 years later, and they still look that new. Then I was impressed. Now I think of it as the problem. They will never grow old. They will never speak of history. No naive eye will look at them and think they represent the past. They seem helplessly captive of the present.Ebert goes on to bemoan the loss of character in Chicago and beyond, in buildings new and old. "Remember a deli, with its neon signs, its daily prices, its sausages and cheeses and displays of pop and wine in the window. Now it has been defaced and replaced by this branch of the Bank of America, which was not even conceived for this site, but offers as little glass and metal as it possibly can, devoid of any ornamentation at all." Yet this seems much more like a problem with capitalism than architecture, not to mention that the latter has always been a product of the former, a reality of both the most grandiose and spare buildings. There's long passages applauding Sullivan—and defaming Mies for denuding him, as Ebert sees it. With all this praise for the past, is there anything he does like? Never having watched much Ebert ourselves, we always got the sense he was rather conventional. What does he think about Jean Gang's Aqua or the compelling work of Krueck+Sexton? Surely it can't all be bad, much as Ebert seems to be remembering the past a little too fondly, as there has been the good and the bad throughout history, architectural and otherwise. Over at the LA Times there's a poll asking readers what they think of Ebert's arguments. About a little more than a third say he's being too simplistic, while the same amount find him to be right on the money. Whatever said you take (and we think we can guess what that is) it's still a thoughtful, if disagreeable piece, and well worth reading.
Crain's Chicago Business reports that big-box retailer Target is negotiating with the developers Joseph Freed and Associates for space at the venerable Carson Pirie Scott & Co. building, now named the Sullivan Center. Formerly home of the department store Carson Pirie Scott, the building, designed by Louis Sullivan, has remained largely vacant following a recent substantial rehab effort. The upper floors house the School of the Art Institute Chicago’s departments of architecture, interior architecture, and designed objects and the architectural mega-firm Gensler. The building anchors the slightly more downtrodden southern end of State Street within the Loop. Chicago Business reports that Target has been scouting downtown real estate for months and that serious talks are underway between the retailer and Freed. They note it would be a significant victory for Freed, whose nearby Block 37 development has been tangled in foreclosure suits over the past few months. This would be the second Target store for the downtown area, as a another opened in recent years about one mile away in the South Loop. Perhaps the design savvy retailer will find their next Michael Graves upstairs.